The gateway to South East Asia, Bangkok is often the first stop on a traveller’s itinerary as they begin their backpacking adventure around this part of the world. It can be a daunting experience entering a new country for the first time that’s so different in its way of life, so I’ve formulated a Bangkok guide to help you enjoy and get the best from this enthralling city.
Food in Bangkok-
Bangkok is easily one of my favourite destinations in the world for street food and you’d not only be paying more, but you’d be missing out, if you were to eat purely in restaurants during your stay here. Vendors align the streets all day serving an array of delights and filling the air with a wonderful concoction of aromas. The food on offer changes depending on the time of the day and the area of Bangkok you are staying in, with different vendors filling the streets in the morning, afternoon and night. A reasonably sized and delicious meal should set you back no more than £1.20. If situated in the Khaosan Road area, try to eat on the surrounding streets rather than Khaosan Road itself in order to save money and have better quality food. Other great spots for street food include the open air markets, such as the popular JJ market and Chinatown.
Visit 10 Bangkok street food delights to see what gorgeous treats you should be keeping your eye out for.
Transport in Bangkok
During your time in Thailand it is likely you'll be in Bangkok far more than once, as it vitally links the north and the south of the country together. Bangkok has a variety of transport to use to get around the city, or to get away from the bustle and head towards the beach. Here are the main modes of transport:
Hua Lamphong is Thailand's largest train station and the end/start of all Bangkok railway journeys. Connecting the majority of main tourist destinations in the country, you will probably be departing from here. The majority of trains are split into first, second and third class carriages, however some trains for shorter journeys are third class only. Trains can be ridiculously cheap in Thailand, especially if you decide to travel in third class. A train in third class to Pattaya for instance costs a mere 31 Baht (£0.62), for a 3 hour journey (just don't expect to arrive on time)! Don't let the thought of third class put you off, for it is highly recommendable as you often end up meeting very welcoming Thai's and seeing how the locals travel. Plus, you can normally find a seat, one under a working fan however may be asking a bit too much.
At the upper end of expenses are 2nd and 1st class carriages or sleeper trains. Sleeper trains have to be booked in advanced, either online or at the train station itself. There's not too much difference between 2nd and 1st class, so personally I'd recommend going 2nd class to save a bit of money. One of the most popular routes used for sleeper trains is Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Prices can vary from 541 Baht (£10.80) for a bed with a fan in 2nd class to 1953 Baht (£39.06) for your own cabin with aircon. If you really want to save money, you can sit in 3rd class for 241 Baht (£4.82), however i'd recommend getting a bed for overnight journeys.
http://thailandtrain.in.th/ is an extremely handy website for checking all train times, prices and sorting out your bookings.
Don't worry too much about food or water, as people carrying bucket loads of different snacks and drinks for sale regularly pass you!
Tuk Tuk -
The most exhilarating way to see the city! Weaving effortlessly through the chaotic traffic of Bangkok, tuk tuks offer a faster alternative to taxis whilst enabling you to take in all the smells, sights and sounds that you pass. Be sure to haggle the price with the tuk tuk driver as they are notorious for trying to rip tourists off. A short 5 minute trip should cost you around 30 Baht (£0.60), longer journeys will cost you more than a taxi.
Taxis are a lot cheaper in Thailand than in western countries and can be cheaper than a tuk tuk. The driver is obliged to have the meter on so don't take no for an answer if they refuse to. Also available are mototaxis; taxi drivers on a motorbike. This form of transport is cheaper than both a tuk tuk or taxi.
Local buses -
Bangkok is host to a complex system of buses that trawl through the city all day long, with some not resting throughout the night. Buses can act as a cheap alternative to taxis and tuk tuks however can be intimidating considering you have no idea where to get off. Regular buses cost a mere 7-8 Baht (£0.14-£0.16) whilst air conditioned buses cost up to 19 Baht (£0.38).
Some of Bangkok’s buses have their own lanes meaning that they can negotiate the capital’s traffic better.
http://www.transitbangkok.com/bangkok_buses.html - route maps and bus schedules can be found here.
Night Buses -
You can get almost anywhere from Bangkok by bus and there'll be a host of travel agents trying to send you on your way. Simply go into one of these travel agents, book your ticket and you're sorted. Touristic streets are filled with travel agents competing for customers to use their services, so be sure to shop around for the best price. Travel agents are handy as they sort everything for you, so if you book a bus to Koh Tao for instance, your ferry will be included. When travelling to other countries by bus such as Laos or Cambodia, these companies will offer to do your visa service for you, however it is cheaper and still easy to sort by yourself at the border. Prices can vary depending on the quality of the bus, but expect to pay around 600+Baht (£12.00) for relatively short journeys to places such as Krabi and Phuket, or 1000+Baht (£20.00) to islands such as Koh Tao or Koh Phangan and longer distances like Chiang Mai. All sleeper buses come with reclining seats, not that they recline very far, so that you can try and get some shut eye during your long trip. Purchasing your bus ticket from the main Bangkok bus terminal will of course be cheaper.
The BTS, also known as ‘sky trains’ is made up of 2 lines that weave through Bangkok in the air. Taking one of these is always interesting, as you travel higher than many of the buildings you go past. Offering a speedy and reliable service, the sky trains are a great way of getting around a city littered with traffic. A day pass costs 130 Baht (£2.60) and a single fare can cost between 15-52 Baht (£0.30-£1.04) depending on the length of your trip. The sky trains are also linked with the metro, chao phraya and certain bus lines.
http://www.transitbangkok.com/bts.html has more information on the routes, times and costs of the BTS.
Chao Phraya Boats –
What better way to explore Bangkok than cruising along its main river? The boats stop at some of the capital’s most popular attractions and you can also access the BTS through Sathorn pier. The boats are split into 5 lines, identifiable by their colour flags. Most expensive of all, costing 40 Baht (£0.80), is the blue line, as this is a tourist boat and comes with a guide (although to me they’re more annoying than informative). Despite it stopping at all the popular piers such as the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Wat Pho, I would always wait for the orange line as this line takes the same route but for 15Baht (£0.50). The other lines include, yellow flag, green flag and no flag, which all provide a cost effective way of exploring Bangkok.
http://www.bangkok.com/information-travel-around/boats-ferries.htm is host to all the information you need regarding the Chao Phraya and its transport.
Consisting of just the one line, the metro stops in popular tourist location Sukhumvit, Hua Lamphong train station and other Bangkok destinations. The metro also links with various bus stations and the BTS. Running from, 6am till midnight, the metro is one of Thailand’s latest running public transport systems.
http://www.transitbangkok.com/mrt.html – this website has more information on Bangkok’s metro system.
What To Do and Where To Go In Bangkok -
Wat Arun –
Situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, the colourfully designed Wat Arun is one of Bangkok’s most spectacular temples. Ideally located, opposite Wat Pho, you can access Wat Arun by taking a boat from Sapphan Taksin pier which stops at pier 8. Once at pier 8, you take the river crossing shuttle boat that costs a mere 3 Baht (£0.06) to the other side of the river where Wat Arun is located. By night, the temple illuminates the Chao Phraya River as it is beautifully lit up.
Admission – 100 Baht (£2.00)
Wat Pho –
Best known for the reclining Buddha, Wat Pho is also a beautiful complex of traditional Thai architecture. Located just a 10 minute walk away from the Grand Palace, the temple can easily be visited in the same day.
Admission – 100 Baht (£2.00)
Grand Palace -
Without doubt the most famous of all of Bangkok’s attractions, the Grand Palace holds an important place in both Thailand’s history and present day. Home to the Thai King when he is in Bangkok, much of the country’s most important political influences spend time in the Palace which is why you’ll see it is guarded by armed soldiers at all times. Inside the complex, you will see Thai architecture at its finest.
Admission – 500 Baht (£10.00)
If you have come to Bangkok to shop your life away, there are few better places to do so than MBK center shopping mall. Easily accessible by BRT, this massive complex is home to around 2000 shops as well as an inside market place where you can haggle and pick up a bargain. Each floor is separated into different categories, i.e one floor is for furniture, another for clothes and another for food.
Chatuchak Market –
There are fewer better places to pick up a bargain than in the 8000 stalls of Bangkok’s largest market. Chatuchak Market, also known as JJ Market, is a weekend market and easily accessible by BTS, just get out at Mo Chit station. Clothes, souvenirs, Thai furniture and some amazing food can all be found here.
Sky Bar –
Made famous by The Hangover 2, the Sky Bar boasts an incredible view of the Bangkok skyline from its rooftop bar. It’s free to enter, however, you will need to purchase a drink once you’re inside which can be pretty pricey.
Nightlife in Bangkok –
Khaosan Road –
If you want to get to know other backpackers Khaosan Road is the place for you. Bars line the streets in this area where a Chang beer tower occupies every table and tourists heavily out favour locals. Thai vendors come out in force here. Some try and persuade you to divulge in some scorpions and spiders whilst others try to wangle you into their tuk tuk and take you to a ping pong show.
Whilst Khaosan Road is flooded with backpackers, Sukhumvit is loaded with expats. This area of Thailand has a mixture of ranchy Go-Go clubs such as Soi cowboy, cool night clubs and fancy bars meaning there’s something for everyone.
Known for its Go Go bars, Patpong is one of the main reasons Bangkok is synonymous with sex tourism. Need I say more…
Daytrips from Bangkok -
As if there aren’t enough sights to see in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok is linked with various towns and cities that make a great day trip and cost mere pennies to get to.
Completely taken over by macaques, Lopburi is a town where man and ape live together (almost) harmoniously. I remember before first leaving to South East Asia, I absolutely couldn’t wait to see all the wild monkeys! So if you fancy being jumped on by some primates, take the 30 Baht train journey to Lopburi.
Once the capital of Siam (now known as Thailand), Ayutthaya is split into a modern and ancient city. Hire a tuk tuk and visit the incredible ruins of temples that are scattered across Ayutthaya. A train to this city costs a mere 20 Baht (£0.40) and takes around 2 hours.
Kanchanaburi is a city that I personally haven’t visited however many people I have met said it’s definitely worth venturing to. Home to the tiger temple, the river kwai and beautiful gushing waterfalls Kanchanaburi sounds like a destination worth hopping on a cheap bus or train for.
Accommodation in Bangkok -
Prices for hostels in Bangkok start at around 100 Baht (£2.00), however the majority I’ve stayed in have been that cheap for a reason. Cockroaches and a bed that was literally on a slope meaning that I’d keep rolling out are just a couple of problems I’ve encountered sleeping in the inexpensive accommodation of Bangkok. However, there are many charming budget hostels that are available for a little bit more money. One of my personal favourites is Born Free Hostel in the Khaosan area, with comfy beds and reliable wifi available for £5.00.
Don’t worry too much about booking somewhere to stay in advance, there’s a wide variety of accommodation available all over the city meaning you can just rock up with you and your backpack and find a room.
If you want to stay somewhere with a bit of class, there are some beautiful properties available to rent for your time in Bangkok on www.airbnb.co.uk for a great price.
Other useful tips for navigating Bangkok -
1) There are 7/11s planted on almost every street that are open throughout the night. Here you can buy your water, snacks, alcohol and whatever else that takes your fancy no matter the time.
2) Crossing the road can be an extremely daunting task when you see five lanes of zooming cars separating you from the pavement of the other side. The art of crossing is pretty much by walking and letting the cars avoid you. Wait for the lane nearest to you to become empty and begin your journey to the other side. From here you can probably walk across the road blindfolded as the Thai’s are skilled in dodging all the traffic that comes there way. If you’re not confident enough to do this, wait for a Thai to also cross the road and follow them, they know what they’re doing!
3) Watch out for pickpockets in busy places. Keep an eye on your personal belongings as pickpockets are rife in certain areas of the capital.
4) Expect to be touched and stroked on a night out. No, not like that, but many Thai’s (mainly ladyboys) will approach you as you walk down the strip of bars, trying to persuade you to come into their club. It can get really annoying, just kindly decline and walk on.
5) You’ll probably be approached by a homeless child at some point in Bangkok, however it’s best that you don’t give them any money as much of the income they make apparently goes to the mafia. If you really want to help them, buy them a meal and give them a drink instead.